In the 2014 NFL draft, general manager Ted Thompson of the Green Bay Packers was looking closely at the University of Alabama for some help on the defensive side of the football in the first round.
The two players he was looking at to help his defense were linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Although I had the Packers taking Clinton-Dix in one of my earlier mock drafts in the first round, I had the Packers taking Mosley in my final mock draft that year.
But in the actual draft, Mosley was picked by the Baltimore Ravens with pick No. 17 before the Packers had a chance to select him with pick No. 21. No matter, Thompson then selected Clinton-Dix.
I had a chance to talk to NFL scout Chris Landry the next day after the Packers had selected No. 21.
“I didn’t really think Clinton-Dix would be there for you, but I thought about you last night and I knew Packer fans like yourself have got to be really happy,” Landry said.
“This is a perfect example of a guy who knows how to run a draft in Ted Thompson, that works that draft board and good players fall to you. And you knew that the player was going to be a good one, and I thought it might be another guy from Alabama [C.J. Mosley], but this one’s a great one and was a really good pick for them.”
Looking ahead towards the 2016 NFL draft, the Packers are still looking for an inside linebacker to help out their defense. Why? There are a few reasons.
For one thing, the Packers would like to move Clay Matthews back to outside linebacker, which is his natural position. Matthews has been forced to play on the inside at times over the past two seasons, as the team needed help at that position.
Matthews performed admirably there as well, as he was named to the Pro Bowl squad this past season due to his performance.
Still, outside linebacker is where No. 52 belongs, especially because of his pass-rushing prowess.
If Matthews does indeed move to the outside, the Packers would still have Jake Ryan and Sam Barrington to play on the inside. Ryan performed pretty well at inside linebacker over the last half of the 2015 season, when he was given the opportunity to start.
Barrington missed almost all of the 2015 season because of a foot injury, but he did play very well on the inside in the last half of 2014, when he was teamed with Matthews.
The problem with Ryan and Barrington is that neither player has the coverage skills to cover quicker backs or tight ends.
That is why Joe Thomas usually came in to play on the inside on passing situations.
Which takes us to a defensive player in the 2016 NFL draft, who once again comes from the Crimson Tide and who might be there when the Packers select with the 27th pick of the first round.
That player is inside linebacker Reggie Ragland. I had another opportunity to talk with Landry on Wednesday on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show. Landry is at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
I asked Landry to compare Ragland to Mosley and also asked if Ragland is a three-down type of linebacker.
“Well, I think Reggie Ragland is a better version of C.J. Mosley,” Landry said. “When he shows off [at the combine], I think he’ll weigh-in close to 260 and he can run. He’s got great range. I do think he’s a three-down linebacker.
“I think he can do a lot in blitz looks as well. He’s going to be an outstanding player. As you mentioned about all the drafts boards, as well as all the free agent boards on the web site, I’ve got them in categories as you know.
“Not just ranked one through eight, but where they [the players] fit. And with the linebackers coming up, I’ll give a sneak preview, he’s going to be first round-graded guy. I think he’ll be in the mid-first round area. I know what you want to know, and I can’t really say if he will or will not be available, as I think it’s going to be close, but I think he would be a great pick if he was there for the Packers.”
As a matter of fact, Landry just posted his initial linebacker draft board today, and Ragland was the third-rated linebacker in the 2016 NFL draft by Chris. The only linebackers who had a higher rating than Ragland were Jaylon Smith of Notre Dame and Myles Jack of UCLA.
I’ll be doing a story soon on Smith. Both Smith and Jones are coming off serious knee injuries which may cause them to be taken later in the first round of this year’s draft. Landry gave them both a 6.9 mark, which means that both Smith and Jones have an early first round value, just based on their talent.
Ragland was given a 6.5 mark, which means he has mid-to-late first round value. When looking at inside linebackers, this is what Landry looks at to determine the rating a player gets:
ILB CRITICAL FACTORS: INSTINCTS and TOUGHNESS are the two most important qualities needed to play any LB position in the NFL, with INSTINCTS being the most vital. The closer you line up to the ball, the smarter you have to be. ILB’s must see the whole field, recognize personnel groupings and make calls and adjustments. BALANCE is also crucial forILB’s because they must fight their way through a lot of traffic and take on big blockers. The most productive ILB’s play low, bend their knees, unlock their hips, disengage and stay on their feet. They don’t NEED to be fast but need to be able to accelerate quickly. Football in general and specifically linebacker play is a leverage game and the low man usually wins. SECURE TACKLING is critical for linebackers as they must keep their shoulders square, hit on the rise, snap their hips and wrap up. ON FIELD LEADERSHIP is critical for ILB’s as they are the QB’s of the defense. They make calls, checks and rally the defense like a coach. The great ones raise the intensity level and set the tempo of the defense.
1. INSTINCTS/INTELLIGENCE/KEY & DIAGNOSE— having a nose for the ball, ability to read,
recognize and react., good understanding of offensive tendencies.
2. TOUGHNESS— aggressive, strong, physical as tackler,
3. ATHLETIC ABILITY— QUICKNESS— initial qcks, movement off ball, qck after start, quick in pass drops, quickness to step, slide & scrape. AGILITY—ability to turn & get depth in pass drops, ability in man coverage, movement in short & long pursuit, cod & movement through traffic. BALANCE— turn ability and cod under control, ability to sty on feet.
4. STRENGTH & EXPLOSION— strength at pos vs inside run, ability to meet, stack and ward off blockers, arm strength in block protection, ability to play through blocks & handle double teams, ability to overpower, ability to get leverage on a blocker, ability to explode into a tackle.
5. PLAYING SPEED— START— quick on movement, speed to pursue outside run, quick feet & speed in pass drops, ability to cover man to man, speed to blitz & rush from outside COD— able to re-direct body, speed & quickness in short & long pursuit. STRIDE— length, smoothness.
6. COMPETITIVENESS/LEADERSHIP— clutch, confident, in charge, work ethic, game film production,
7. TACKLING— strength at poa vs inside run, quickness, cod to make solid open field wrap up tackles, ability to use strength, leverage and explosion into tackles, hard or drag tackler.
8. SIZE—type of build, growth potential
ILB POSITION SPECIFICS:
9. (1) SHED BLOCKERS— ability to physically meet and beat blockers, ability to elude blockers & square up in good body position, use of arms and hands in block protection.
10. (2) INSIDE RUN—- strength to stack blockers, tackle, fill a hole, hold ground on plays at him, close strong, fill quickly, slide down the los.
11. (3) RUN ABILITY/LATERAL MOVE— speed to cover outside run, ability to drop, turn and get depth, cover ability in short and long pursuit and speed to rush from outside.
12. (4) BLITZ/RUSH—EDGE SPEED/QUICKNESS— WLB’s must have explosiveness and ability to rush off the edge.
13. (5) PASS COVERAGE—M/M ON TE or RB– & ZONE— drop ability, man coverage ability, zone feel—ball instincts., can he get depth and width simultaneously.
14. (6) OUTSIDE RUN— lateral speed, ability to read on move, step over trash, maintain leverage on ball, lateral speed and quickness to meet wide plays, must play well behind ball.
15. (7) HANDS— hard or soft, body catch/trap balls, eye-hand coordination, concentration.
16. (8) JAM TE— SLB’s have to be able to chuck and control TE.
Landry didn’t think Clinton-Dix would be available for the Packers to select in the 2014 NFL draft, but he was. Maybe the same will hold true for the Packers with Ragland. Plus, just like Clinton-Dix was in his last year with Alabama, Ragland is coming off yet another national championship for the Crimson Tide.
There is certainly a lot to like. Ragland goes 6’1″, 260 pounds. In the past two seasons with the Tide, Ragland had 197 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss, 10 pass breakups, one interception, four sacks and three forced fumbles.
Ragland is a downhill, physical linebacker at the point of attack on the inside on running downs, plus can blitz well, both from the inside and outside on passing downs. He had a good week at the Senior Bowl, as he also showed nice coverage skills.
Bottom line, if Ragland is still on the board when the Packers have their selection with pick No. 27 in the first round, it would definitely be a great pick for the team, as Landry reiterated when he talked with me.